Former State Highway Administration chief Neil Pedersen testified Wednesday in federal court in Baltimore that state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie constantly asked him the status of transportation projects sought by Shoppers Food Warehouse but never mentioned being on the company's payroll.
"At any point did he disclose to you that he had a financial relationship with Shoppers?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo J. Wise asked.
"No, he did not," Pedersen replied.
Currie, 74, a Prince George's County Democrat, is accused of accepting $245,000 in bribes from the supermarket chain between 2002 and 2008.
Defense attorneys contend that Currie, who was chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in Annapolis, did nothing improper when he arranged meetings between Shoppers executives and state officials.
The company paid Currie $3,000 per month beginning in February 2003 and increased the monthly payments to a high of $7,600 in December 2007. Currie has said that he was working for the company as a consultant, but he never mentioned the work on his General Assembly disclosure forms.
Defense attorneys have attributed the omission to sloppiness in record-keeping. Currie stepped down as chairman of the committee last fall after being indicted.
Pedersen testified that his staff members expedited Currie's projects and reconsidered one several times even after they deemed it unnecessary. He said he thought Currie was working on behalf of Prince George's County residents he represents in the Assembly.
At issue were two traffic lights Shoppers requested from the highway administration — one for a store on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills, the other at a Shoppers in Laurel. Currie succeeded in getting the light for the Laurel location but not the one on Reisterstown Road.
Prosecutors instructed Pedersen to read from several memos he wrote to his staff involving Currie's projects. "Senator Currie asks me every time he sees me whether we have resolved the Reisterstown Road Shoppers Food Warehouse issue. How close are we to resolving it?" he read.
"It is very critical that we do all that we can to expedite this as much as possible. This is very important to the chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee," Pedersen wrote of the Laurel project. "We have our budget, [hiring requests] and several critical pieces of legislation before his committee right now."
Pedersen said the Intercounty Connector was one of the projects pending before Currie's committee at the time.
Pedersen said former Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and state Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. of Prince George's, both Democrats, also called him on behalf of Shoppers.
The jury also heard testimony from Edward Mitchell, former vice president of employee relations for Supervalu Inc., Shoppers' parent company. Mitchell said Supervalu had a contract with Currie to assist the company in minority employment recruitment.
Mitchell, who is a lawyer, said he would have noticed if something about the agreement was improper.
"If I saw something that because of my legal experience raised a red flag, I would have raised questions about that," Mitchell said. He said he never took Currie's contract to the company's legal department for vetting.
"I was looking at whether it was a proper consultant relationship — primarily for affirmative action," Mitchell testified.
Currie is on trial along with two former Shoppers Food Warehouse Corp. executives — William J. White, 68, of Annapolis, the company's ex-president; and R. Kevin Small, 65, of Lewisburg, Pa., a former vice president for real estate development.
Prosecutors had Mitchell read a memo from Small asking for an annual raise for Currie.
"He has done a great job working with human resources on recruiting, store development on traffic lights, entrance changes, and found money from the state of Maryland and Baltimore County," the memo said. "He has interceded with the mayor of Baltimore, the county commissioners and the transportation secretary. He has personalized meetings with these individuals, and Shoppers associates have attended."
Pederson's testimony is scheduled to resume Monday. The trial is expected to last six weeks.
twitter.com/lukebroadwaterCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun